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Monday, June 11, 2012

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Book Review
Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
p. 1818
Public Domain Books 1994
Read on Kindle

    It's appropriate to end any survey of Jane Austen's body of work with Northanger Abbey.  Northanger Abbey was both the first book she ever completed for publication and the last book to be published. Part of the mystique surrounding Jane Austen derives from the fact that none of her prep work/juvenilla survived.  All we have are the Novels and criticism/biography that started only after her death.

    Essentially, Northanger Abbey's publication history is the most interesting, enduring facet of the work.  Written by Jane Austen as early as 1798, 1799, it was sold to a publisher who simply sat on it for a decade.  Jane then moved to buy back the manuscript, which she did, during her life, in 1813, however she never published it.  Northanger Abbey was published instead posthumously as part of a four volume set containing Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and two volumes of biographical material. 

   It is fair to say that Northanger Abbey is not as sophisticated as Austen's later works, but it is also fair to say that none of her other books were written when she was 23-24 years old.  It's incredible that the book simply wasn't published, especially when you compare Austen's already established third-person narrator to the clumsy epistolary novels and picaresques of the 18th century English literary scene. 

  That should be quite a consolation to dis-respected Artists of all areas- be it literature, music, film etc.  Even Jane Austen couldn't get her first novel published.  You could almost say that the Narrator/main character combo are too self-aware.  I imagine an audience member reading Northanger Abbey at the turn of the 18th/19th century and feeling that it was too "artificial" or "affected" to be real literature.  But of course, that is the enduring strength of the Jane Austen body of work, her sophistication as a writer. 

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